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Seminar on Sustainable Migration

What is sustainable migration, and how do we reach political consensus on migration policy in Europe? Researchers and stakeholders gathered at Norway House to discuss the topic.

The Oxford University professors Paul Collier and Alexander Betts have, by appointment from the Norwegian department of the European Migration Network (EMN), suggested a framework for European migration policy

The term “sustainable migration” is a young term in the history of the migration debate, and the idea to create a research-based approach to the term was first suggested by EMN Norway.

– The idea was to examine and agree on a definition of the term sustainable migration for use in policy making and debates, explains Øyvind Jaer, National Coordinator of EMN Norway.

Challenges for migration

Collier and Betts have outlined identifiable issues in the handling of migrants today, accompanied by desirable solutions. They argue that Europe’s politicians and policymakers should agree on a desired endpoint, and from there develop policies that help in reaching that endpoint. In addition, they argue that a new discourse on what sustainable migration can offer a common language through which politicians can reconnect with citizens. This way, sustainable migration can lead to political unification rather than political polarization.

Read the full report here

– Sustainable migration policy should satisfy three simple conditions: It must meet widely accepted ethical obligations, enjoy broad democratic support, and avoid decisions that people, whether migrants, receiving or sending institutions will later come to regret, said Alexander Bett.


Paul Collier and Alexander Betts. Photo: Siren Gunnarshaug

An important aspect of sustainable migration, the researchers argue, are policies that endure over time, and do not come off as chaotic and dominated by ad hoc responses to a sudden situation. The refugee crisis in 2015 were pointed out as an example of how Europe’s migration policy have lacked coherence.

– Chancellor Angela Merkel threw open the doors to Europe in September 2015 and then led the push for an EU deal with Turkey that attempted to slam the doors shut, said the professors.

Whereas rich countries do have an ethical obligation to help poor countries develop, and to help and protect people who are fleeing from prosecution and conflict, they do not have obligations to accommodate aspirational migrants. From this, the researchers point out the importance of distinguishing between different types of migrants.

– There are three different types of migrants: Refugees with no other choice but to come to Europe, refugees with other possible options closer to home, and economic migrants with an opportunistic motivation for moving, Paul Collier explained.

As the researchers argued, Europe lacks an effective way of distinguishing between the different types of migrants. Secondly, the ad hoc policies we have seen over the last years may have contributed to a lack of trust in the politicians’ abilities to handle migration among the population. Lastly, they pointed out the importance of having an effective return system.

– Europe needs to develop an effective and humane mechanism for returning unsuccessful asylum claimants, to either a regional haven country or country of origin. The rate of return for failed asylum seekers is low, and it is far too easy for rejected asylum seekers to disappear into the informal economy.

A lot has been done

According to numbers from the European Asylum Support Office, EU countries recorded 728 470 asylum applications in 2017, which is a 44 % decrease since 2014. 46 percent out of the received applications were positive, meaning the applicants were granted refugee status or humanitarian protection. In addition, 451.820 lives have been saved in the Mediterranean since 2015. Magnus Ovilius from DG Migration pointed out that the EU has made a great effort to safe people’s lives and provide protection, but that there is still need to do more.

– This is the first time EMN arranges a discussion in Brussels on sustainable migration policy, and we plan to host more informal roundtables in 2019, Ovilius said.


Magnus Ovilius, DG Migration. Photo: Siren Gunnarshaug

Possible solutions

85 percent of the world’s refugees find sanctuary in low- and middle-income countries like Lebanon and Jordan. When it comes to refugees who are displaced from home due to crisis, Betts and Collier argued that Europe should provide safety in normality in ‘safe havens’, not necessarily by migrating to EU countries.

– Assistance and development should, however, not come in the form of indefinite humanitarian aid, but rather be help that contributes to restore autonomy and community, the researchers argue.

A crucial part of this is providing jobs in host countries outside Europe. Another significant group of people who migrate, and aspire to migrate, is so-called “aspirational migrants”.

– Those crossing the Mediterranean from Libya for instance, are often young, educated men, driven on by an idealized vision of Europe. Whereas 10-12 million young Africans enter the labour market annually, far less jobs are created.

What is needed, is to restore young Africans with the faith that their own continent will provide a future for them, for example by creating opportunities and for meaningful entrepreneurship on the continent. Also, the idealized vision of Europe must be changed, the researches argue.


Anne Skevik Grødem. Photo: Siren Gunnarshaug


Norway-EU cooperation

The Norwegian scientists Grete Brochmann and Anne Skevik Grødem from the University of Oslo, as well as Asle Toje, political scientist and member of The Norwegian Nobel Committee, also took part in the seminar at Norway House. Toje talked about cultural variable in how successful integration might be in different countries, and Brochmann and Grødem brought up the national approach to sustainable migration. As a Schengen and EEA state, Norway has a close cooperation with the EU on migration policy.

– Norway’s policy should harmonize with the Europe’s. Our cooperation with the EU through the European Migration Network is constructive, and we believe what we have heard here today has high political relevance, said Øyvind Jaer.